Boro Park 1963 and Alexanders on Queens Blvd where many of our mothers shoped
My parents immigrated, from Israel, to this great big country in 1960. They had hopes and dreams like many settlers who stepped on American soil. My father, whose dream of coming to the United States ever since he was a teenager, was so disappointed after the first three months of arriving, he wanted to go back. However, my mother firmly objected, stating “we are here and we’ll make the best of it”. Their sleeping arrangement was quite difficult back then; they used the living room drapes to cover themselves in the Boro Park apartment shared by relatives; my father slept on the floor while my mother slept on the couch. Money did not grow on the trees as it was thought and they struggled mightily in the early years.
There is a photo, which I recall, in my parents pictures archives, where they were sitting in the living room with our basement tenant, a single guy from Israel, a very recent immigrant, in our Rego Park home in the early 60’s. It seamed they were all excited, full of energy; they were hungry, eager, full of hope, to sink their teeth into the American workforce. My parents and their friends, who came around the same time, like many wanted to express to their loved ones, back home, that they made it!!; they were successful in the land of opportunity.
In this week’s parsha we learn a very valuable lesson about life. It becomes evident from the beginning that there is a clear difference between Yosef and his brothers. Yosef is the classic dreamer, his head in the stars and his youthful high spirits and certainty in the truthful outcome of his dreams becomes very irritating to his siblings. The brothers, on the other hand, have their feet firmly implanted on the ground, in the reality of the world in which they exist.
Yosef feels the brothers have been unjust for rejecting his dreams immediately and they in turn are convinced that he and his dreaming constitute a veritable danger to the unity and survival of Yaakov’s family.
By carefully analyzing the conflict between Yosef and his brothers, and for the most part, Yehuda, since he’s the leader, the underlying message is the difference of inspirational theory of Judaism and it’s sometimes day to day practice of practical reality – of what can be achieved even though it is not exactly what one dreamt of achieving. Although it presents itself as two separate entities, Yosef and his brothers, it is our utmost responsibility to combine both.
The Jewish people in its long and difficult history have somehow been able to fuse together the spirit and dreams of Yosef with the hardheaded realism of his brothers. Both traits are necessary for our survival and accomplishments, both as individuals and as a nation. Someone without dreams and ambition, who refuses to reach heavenward and conquer the stars, will never be a truly creative or original person. However, if this drive is not tempered by a realistic sense of the situation and the society that surrounds us, then all dreams are doomed to eventually disappoint.
Our celebration this week of the holiday of Chanukah is based on the kindness of G-d for performing the great miracles on his chosen people. However, it’s vital that we should not rely on miracles; one cannot sit back expect G-d to deliver; one has to put effort; it’s quite important that one has to use brains; he has to be clever to handle any situations that’s presented. If after all the efforts are exhausted then and only then may he turn to G-d.
The Macabees were a small band of untrained individuals, clearly the underdogs, with the dream of beating the most powerful nation in the world. They had the hope, the dream, the drive of Yosef combining the ingenuity and practicality of Yehuda and the brothers. The Macabees found a method where they were able to inflict a wound under the elephant, the Greeks most powerful and deadly weapon. There is a soft spot in the location of the elephant, where the Jewish warriors were able to inflict a devastating knife wound. Although, one of Matityahu’s (the Jewish leader) sons was killed in an attempt, the huge animal trampled him. The experience, although at a terrible price, had enabled them to refine the method of attack. The motivation and dream of regaining the holy Temple with the ingenuity of finding the right clever warfare approach led to the Jewish victory. It’s incredible!! The Macabees subdued the greatest empire in the world. This band of Kohanim organized an effective military.
A VISION OF YOSEF IS IMPLANTED
In the Shabbat morning Amida (Shemoneh Esrei) we read “YISMACH MOSHE BEH MATANAT CHELKO”, Moshe was happy. What exactly Moshe was happy about?
It says in tractate Baba Kama(10:2) that G-d was speaking to Moshe and said ” I have a present in my secret chamber and it is Shabbat, and I want to give it to the Jewish people. So please, Moshe, go and bring the good news to them”. It was for this reason that “Yismach Moshe”, that Moshe was ecstatic to be the one to deliver the news.
When the Jews were in Egypt, Moshe saw how torturously overworked they were, so he convinced Pharaoh to give them one day off to rest. He reasoned that ” if one wants to maximize the production of his workers, one has to give them a day of rest. That day was the seventh day, Shabbat. Therefore, Moshe was happy.
This day, Shabbat, which Pharaoh gave them to rest, was a very significant day for them in the spiritual growth and hope for the redemption. They would congregate and read from Megilot (scripts) about how G-d was going to redeem them; it was a very inspirational day. It gave them a vision for the future. However, when Pharaoh discovered what was being conducted on these Shabbat gatherings (not sure if Cholent was served!!) he discontinued them. After this disclosure, he made them work double on Shabbat with no straw to work with.
But it was too late; the seed was planted. The Jews in Egypt now saw beyond the bricks and straws. They saw the future, a bright one. This was due to the ability to hope. The Yosef in each Jew began to flourish.
YOSEF AND YEHUDA
This story of Yosef and his brothers, particularly the roles of Yosef and Yehuda, does not end with the narrative of the Torah here in Bereshit. In later Jewish history, after the death of King Shlomo, the Jewish nation is split into two sections – the kingdom of Israel (Yosef) and the kingdom of Yehuda (the house of David.) Thus the competition between the two leading sons of Yakov’s family, Yehuda and Yosef, survived centuries of attempted unity. And the eventual result of this split within the Jewish nation was disaster for both sections of that nation. Both sections of the nation were weakened.
The Rabbis of the Talmud divided the Messiah himself into two personages – Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid (a descendant of the tribe of Yehuda.) The former was to pave the way for the latter, but both were part of the envisioned messianic process. Apparently, Jewish redemption and fulfillment is dependent on both Yosef and Yehuda and is destined to realization only if both are full participants in the process.
Yosef remains a holy Jew, in spite of his being exposed to the decadence of the prevailing Egyptian culture. He is an integral part of the Egyptian court and world, but he really is only an outsider looking in and not really desirous of “belonging” to the culture that surrounds him. Yosef is the model for the Jew who is successful in the general world but doggedly determined to remain faithful to his own soul, tradition and destiny as a son of Yakov. Yehuda is much more cautious and conservative. He has seen the outside world, the general society and is frightened to become part of it. Yehuda has lost sons, has suffered tragedy and disappointment, has made errors and risen from sin, and is willing to sacrifice all to remain Jewish and save other Jews. Yehuda does not wish to be Yosef. He sees Yosef’s way as being too dangerous, too risky – certainly for the masses of Israel. Yosef, on the other hand, cannot see a future for Israel if it is completely isolated from the general society, of which it is a part, no matter what Israel’s preference in the matter may be.
Yosef takes the risks and is successful in maintaining his Jewishness and in raising holy children and grandchildren, in the midst of the squalor of Egyptian culture. But Yehuda is also successful in his way and Yosef and Yehuda therefore march in lock step throughout Jewish history. They remain competitors and sometimes they have harsh things to say to and about each other and their different paths. But in the end, they are both the pillars of Jewish survival and society. They complement each other even if many times they do not utter compliments about each other. They are partners in the messianic and redemptive historical process of Jewish history. They are both still here with us today in our own personal and national struggle to build a Torah nation and a good world. We should appreciate their presence and influence upon us.
That generation of builders, our parents, are now the great grandparents of today’s young. What were the results of their dreams?
If the achievements of the dreams and hope of Yosef were planted with the skillful practicality of Yehuda, there is a good chance that success was imminent. As Theodore Roosevelt said “I want men to fix their eyes on the stars, but they must not forget to feel the ground on which they walk”
After World War II, the future Rosh Yeshiva (headmaster) of the Ponevezh Yeshiva, one of the largest Yeshiva in the world today, Rabbi Yosef Kahaneman, was quoted as saying , as he stood on a hill where the future yeshiva stands overlooking Bnai Brak Israel, “I am going to build B’H a tremendous Yeshiva”. He was told “you must be dreaming”. He answered back “I’m dreaming, however I’m not sleeping”.” One has to work on his dreams in order to be successful!!!”